Louise Lawler


2006, printed 2012

Not on display

Louise Lawler born 1947
Photograph, dye destruction on paper
Image: 743 × 594 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Karpidas Family (Tate Americas Foundation) 2013, accessioned 2021
On long term loan


This is one of a group of related colour cibachrome photographic prints on paper by Louise Lawler in Tate’s collection, created over a period of seventeen years between 1993 and 2010 (Tate L03667–L03673). This image was taken in 1997 and printed in 1999 in an edition of five, of which this is the second. The left half of the image shows part of a trolley used for moving artworks in and out of storage, with protective cardboard sheets; the right half shows a section of a painting resting on the wooden floor and against the wall. The visible section of the painting consists of a stylised blue ‘splatter’ shape and a curved shape made of yellow and black lines, all on a background of stencilled ‘Ben-Day’-style dots. The canvas shown is Brushstroke with Splatter 1966 (Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago) by Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997). Information provided by the artist reveals that it was taken at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.

Lawler is best known for her photographs of the interiors of museums, galleries and the homes of art collectors. She depicts artworks in context, investigating how display conditions influence their meaning. Her close studies of the placement of works of art in institutions and in private homes demonstrate the degree to which factors external to artworks affect their significance and auratic quality (see, for example, March 25, 1991 1991, Tate P79772, and Foreground 1994, Tate P79771). Her images frequently offer an ironic commentary on the use of artworks as decoration or emblems of cultural capital. She has described her critical intention, stating ‘The effort of my work is to show the habits and conventions of looking at art by taking on aspects of the system to make it visible’ (quoted in Museum of Modern Art 1987, unpaginated).

From the late 1990s onwards, Lawler extended this interest to include images of works of art either in storage or in the process of installation and de-installation; such is the case with Splash and the other related works in this group. Lawler’s photographs employ a variety of formal devices such as close ups, cropping, unconventional angles and the use of lighting and exposure to create unusual compositions and juxtapositions.

The importance of titles in Lawler’s practice varies. Often she uses descriptive yet enigmatic titles which sometimes provide clues, identifying the artwork seen in the photograph. This is the case here, where the use of the word ‘splash’ draws attention to the subject of Lichtenstein’s painting.

Further reading
Projects: Louise Lawler, exhibition leaflet, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1987.
Helen Molesworth (ed.), Louise Lawler: Twice Untitled and Other Pictures (Looking Back), exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio 2006.

Shoair Mavlian
December 2012
Arthur Goodwin
October 2018

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